How to write a bestseller: A Guardian Masterclass with James Patterson

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-10-56-51-amJames Patterson is the world’s best selling thriller author. As of January 2016 he had sold over 350 million books, and currently holds the Guinness World Record for the most #1 New York Times Bestsellers. Pretty impressive, no?

I’m not a thriller reader, but i’m always interested in what makes books successful, and I was encouraged to come along to this event with my friend. I had met  her at a previous masterclass with Kate and Greg Mosse, and we were both expecting something similar.

I think the event was meant to be a small affair, but due to the popularity of Mr Patterson they released more tickets, and so it was held at the Royal Geographical Society Hall in Kensington

The event had promised the following from James Patterson:  

  • Getting into the proper mindset – an essential first step to writing a bestseller
  • The secrets of staying focused, productive and motivated as a writer
  • Developing a plot to keep your readers hooked
  • Creating an outline before you start writing your first draft
  • Expert advice on conquering writer’s block
  • Writing dialogue and building suspense to drive a story forward
  • Editing your work and choosing the right ending
  • Getting published and marketing your book
  • Common pitfalls of creative writing – and how to avoid them
  • Q&A – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to quiz James Patterson about writing

The first half of the event was disappointing, to say the least. We had expected more, and were greeted with a ‘conversation’ between James Patterson and the host. I think a lot of the problems caused by this structure could have been solved with checking facts with James Patterson before he came out on the stage. Instead we were met with the host asking a question, a question she had created from something she had read on Patterson’s website, and Patterson responding with “I don’t know what’s on my website, I have no input into it”.  This went on for quite some time, and Mr Patterson stated over and over again he can’t give advice, he can only say what he does.

The intermission/break was moved up, we filed out of the hall and applied wine to our confusion.  There was discontent amongst our fellow audience members.There was tension in the air as we took our seats again. The host quickly flicked the whole thing over to audience questions. Better, but not great

Question: So Mr Patterson, how did you create that twist in your book xxx?

Mr Patterson: I can’t remember.

and then the evening was cut short by 40mins and we were ushered out with free books being dished out with apologies.

but here is what I actually did learn from the conversation with James Patterson:

  • He was turned down by 3 publishers
  • Worked  nights in a mental hospital
  • He was in advertising but has been clean for over 20 years
  • He can’t offer advice, can only say how he does it (important for later reference to a question)
  • He goes to sleep holding hands with his wife
  • Writes long hand in pencil then gives to assistant to type up
  • It takes 1 month to redo an outline if it’s not working
  • His outlines are about 40-60 pages. A paragraph per chapter, and then scenes.
  • Not a slave to the outline and can modify as he goes
  • A good first line is very important
  • When you write it needs to be realistic to the reader
  • J.K Rowling is good at getting you interested in characters. It’s a hard thing to do.
  • Has met Will Smith a couple of times

I have previously been to two of the Guardian Masterclass offerings and loved them. However, I was disappointed with this masterclass for a number of reasons, and I wanted to note that The Guardian handled the situation well. They have offered a credit and so I will go back for more, and believe this was a one off misfire.

Guardian Masterclasses offer a broad range of short and long courses across a variety of disciplines from creative writing, journalism, photography and design, film and digital media, music and cultural appreciation.

Disclaimer: Featured photos are saved from internet sources and are not the product of my own skills. All workshops/events are paid for by me and all reviews are mine from my own notes, opinions and experiences.


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